Hanukkah Or Chanukah
(Hebrew for "dedication"), annual festival of the Jews celebrated on eight successive days. It begins on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish calendar, corresponding, approximately, to December in the Gregorian calendar. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication, and Feast of the Maccabees, Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabee in 165 BC after the temple had been profaned by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria and overlord of Palestine. In 168 BC, on a date corresponding approximately to December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, the temple was dedicated to the worship of Zeus Olympius by order of Antiochus. An altar to Zeus was set up on the high altar. When Judas Maccabee recaptured Jerusalem three years later, he had the temple purged and a new altar put up in place of the desecrated one. The temple was then rededicated to God with festivities that lasted eight days. According to talmudic tradition, only one cruse of pure olive oil, sealed by the high priest and necessary for the rededicatory ritual, could be found, but that small quantity burned miraculously for eight days. A principal feature of the present-day celebration, commemorating this miracle, is the lighting of candles, one the first night, two the second, and so on until a special eight-branched candelabrum is completely filled. The principal source for the story of Hanukkah is the Talmud.